Caring for the HOMELESS program

Given below are some of the dos and donts for the program.

(Please note that these are just broad guidelines)

The Protocol states that homeless people should not be approached unless they request assistance or appear to be distressed or in need of assistance. Also, if their behaviour threatens their safety or the safety and security of people around them and likely to result in damage to property or have a negative impact on natural and cultural conservation of environment, including cultural heritage, water pollution and fire risks

It also states that if the homeless is a child who appears to be under the age of 16 or a young person who appears to be 16 to 17 years old who may be at risk of significant harm.

All staff should be trained in giving response; identification of distress or mental health issues through courses such as Mental Health First Aid. Such training may improve the capacity of officials to respond appropriately to the needs of homeless individuals, especially since they comprise of different sections.

Dealing with complex needs of the homeless 

People who experience chronic homelessness are more likely to have   one or more of the following: cognitive impairment, traumatic brain injury, serious physical health problems, history of abuse or trauma, mental illness, mental disorder, psychiatric disability or addictions.

It is said that 75% of the homeless population have a significant mental illness and the reasons are complex. The experience of a severe mental disorder, such as psychotic illnesses, is a major contributing factor to their homelessness and for others, drug and alcohol abuse, social isolation and mental disorders can be consequences, as well as causes.

Past or current trauma is an important factor and those experiencing homelessness report a disproportionate levels of victimisation, including repeated experiences of childhood abuse, domestic and family violence, rape, physical and sexual assault, and robbery. A new episode of violence or abuse can trigger someone to leave their accommodation and become homeless again.

Being homeless carries a high risk of violence that can exacerbate mental disorders and further entrench a cycle of moving between temporary accommodation, sleeping rough and hospitalisation. Officials approaching homeless people in public places should recognise the kind of people they come to contact with and the impact of some of these issues on the person’s behaviour.

The Protocol encourages a non-discriminatory response and, if possible, a referral of that person to services with relevant expertise. This response is particularly important when the official considers that the person is at risk of harming themselves or other people.

Dealing with Children

Specific legal and policy requirements apply when staff in the course of their work, respond to children and young people who may be homeless.

  • Reporting depends on the child/ young person’s age, whether they are in out-of-home care and whether they are at risk of significant harm.
  • Mandatory reports legally required to report a child under 16 years of age who may be at risk of significant harm to the Child Protection Helpline and also young person 16 to 17 years of age if they are concerned the young person is at risk of significant harm.

Dealing with Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people’s connection and sense of belonging to country is an integral part of their cultural identity superseding contemporary land tenure and boundaries. Therefore the ‘public’ and ‘private’ land distinctions are viewed differently by them.

  • Past and current indicators demonstrate that Aboriginal people are the most disadvantaged sector in the NSW population.
  • Due to past policies and practices some Aboriginal people have a negative perception of government and officials.
  • This may lead to hostility towards officials approaching them in public places.
  • A culturally respectful approach is recommended to build positive relationships and prevent behaviours that may cause problems in public spaces.

Dealing with people from different backgrounds

NSW is the most culturally diverse state in Australia. People from around 200 birthplaces have made the state their home; in addition, nearly a quarter of the population speak a language other than English at home10.

  • New arrivals to Australia, especially refugees or asylum seekers can be at risk of homelessness.
  • Officials should respect people of different cultural, linguistic, or religious backgrounds may have different priorities, values, beliefs and customs.
  • Most have low incomes, limited abilities with the English language and relatively weak community ties.
  • This leads to lack trust in officials who engage with them in public places
  • A better understanding can be reached by asking the person questions about their circumstances and the usage of interpreter is recommended to understand and refer them to relevant services as required.

Dealing with substance abuse cases

Prevalence rates of substance use disorders among homeless persons exceed general population estimates and co-morbidity (co-occurrence) of substance use and other mental disorders is common.    Substance abuse can be a cause of homelessness for some people and a response to prolonged homelessness for others.46 

  • Where individuals are treated for drug and alcohol issues in a hospital, prison, residential program or foster care, there must be a planned transition into the community.
  • Housing First models that provide stability for a person with substance abuse issues to engage in treatment and integrated service models that approach the risk of homelessness and substance abuse in holistic ways should be developed, funded and implemented.
  • Rehabilitation and treatment programs such as Mission Australia’s Triple Care Farm, Mac River, Junaa Buwa! and Drug and Alcohol Youth Service (DAYS) should be supported as successful intervention strategies.
  • Youth-specific detoxification and rehabilitation services should be expanded in NSW to meet growing demand.

Shortlisting volunteers for the program – checklist

  • Past experience
  • Trained at giving response
  • Ability to spot distress or mental health issues through courses such as Mental Health First Aid.
  • Mock sessions
  •  Sensitivity to handle children
  • Sensibility in handling multi ethnic people
  • Patience while dealing with those having trauma/substance abuse

SYNE is joining the drive this winter by giving sleeping mats, blankets and quilts (we have 200 pieces) for those who are sleeping rough. We have obtained these from Qantas and happy to distribute this across Greater Sydney Area from 10-30 June 2021.

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